By Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Puppies. . . In Spaaaaaace!!
Out of the Czech Republic comes Space Engineers, a sandbox simulation of outer-space construction and survival. To me, it genuinely feels like Minecraft in space, with very restricted yet infinite possibilities. You can only craft space stations, small ships, and large ships. However, I have seen such a plethora of various ships and stations from all walks of science-fiction. While I myself am no master engineer, I marvel at some of the dedication that players have put into their work, from Star Wars’ Slave 1, some of the Battlestar Galactica and Babylon 5 battle cruisers, and everything in between. It’s overwhelming to see what players can do with such a small amount of blocks! The amount of pieces you have to actually craft walls and such with are fairly small, but it’s how you use them that show your talent at this game.
I never really got into sandbox creation games, not really understanding all the hype behind Minecraft. But I am a huge Space Nerd, and the idea of building a Borg Cube or some kind of monstrous Star Destroyer appeals to me immensely. Sadly, my Borg Cube will still be incomplete by the time this article is out. It is still in construction, as a massive feat that will take a great deal of time. I appreciate that there are both creative and survival modes. I am not really much of a survival guy, I’d rather just have an infinite amount of items and build whatever I want so that I can admire it. The community however has its pile of toxic people: I have watched in several servers as players come in with a ship, and do nothing but ram into the creations of others, demolishing hours, days, and weeks’ worth of work. It is deplorable to think that players wish to do nothing but make other peoples’ experience in a game bad, just because they enjoy trolling. With all of that in mind, I present Space Engineers!
Engage Primary Ignition
In Space Engineers, you have a few options right out of the gate. You can load a random universe to play in, or you can set up a world to play in based on parameters that you feel are pertinent. There are lots of different settings, such as the mode (Creative or Survival), Inventory size, Welding/Grinding speed, and the amount of asteroids. You can even choose the limits of your world size, from 10km to 100km, to unlimited amounts of outer space! You can enable or disable weapons, include cargo ships, all the way to a hardcore Permanent Death setting. You can make these settings “Realistic,” (read as: very slow) or you can turn them up, if you want to get into the nitty-gritty. It is also important to note the setting for Environment Hostility. The default setting is “Safe,” which means there are no meteors flying around trying to murder you and everything you love. However, you can set it all the way to Armageddon, which feels like the solar system around you is ending, meteors hurtling at your construction constantly. I tried that for a while and it was kind of terrifying. I’d finally get a structure set up and prepared, only to be decimated by the furious power of nature.
You can also start with a few varying scenarios, depending on just how dedicated you want to be to your designing. You can start with nothing, floating in space in a suit, armed with your tools and wits. Or should you prefer, you can decide to start on a small ship with a small space station (more of a platform) to build from. Of course there’s plenty of options in between. You can even start with two platforms in the event you want multiplayer or vs. modes. This is pertinent because there are now factions in the game, where players can team up on servers as a group, sharing resources and defenses against the elements and other players (more on this a little later on.) Your games do not have to be public for everyone to join, though. You can set them to offline, or private, or just for your friends if you choose; that leads to the thought of space pirates again. These people exist, and are only seeking to destroy. If they found their way into your game, you are either in a public game or enabled a setting that allowed them to join. Take caution if you are not seeking a player vs. player environment.
UNLIMITED. . .POWER!!
I will spare my audience a tutorial on “How to Build in Space Engineers.” The game has a series of tutorial videos that will help all levels of skill learn how to play this game, and I implore everyone interested in this title to please, please view them. I knew nothing until I started watching them; now I know a little bit! So that’s progress. However there is one aspect of this game that needs attention: power. So you’ve spent a few hours building the structure of your spaceship: You have gun turrets in place, an ejector. You have a medlab, gravity generators, and power reactors to keep everything going. However, nothing is turning on yet. Why is that? A prime example would be fuel; you cannot do a lot without power to your reactors. This comes in the form of uranium ingots; players on the realistic setting will find gathering these ingots an excruciatingly tedious affair. But you do need the uranium to power your ships and stations, unless you opt for good old fashioned Solar Panels. In creative mode, you can just make these and apply them, but in Survival or realistic play, it is not quite that easy.
However, solar panels do not generate much power, so I would not attempt to use them by themselves. At best, you can use them as a backup in case of attack, and you absolutely need some backup power to get the ship to safety. Space Engineers is not a game that is meant to be a quick playthrough. There’s no chance to have a battleship ready to head into space and defeat all-comers in just two hours. No, this is a game that is meant to feel realistic, that you have to put in plenty of time, dedication, and work. I can best describe it as the melding of Eve Online’s empirical style with Minecraft’s gameplay. There are certainly ways to supplant the speed of the game, however. If you are in creative mode and have access to unlimited supplies, you can place a block and hold control or shift and draw a line of blocks such as armor, catwalks, et cetera. This is fantastic to get the walls of your structure in place to know truly what you want it to look like.
Time For Another Good Idea, Bad Idea
Good idea: Conveyors. Conveyors are your friend and will help you. Conveyors are used to link ship systems and storage systems together. You can also use conveyor tubes, which can serve as a bridge between platforms, or even to convey mined ore into your space station for processing. One use for these is to set up a conveyor system near an asteroid where you are farming. Make sure the ore you farm drops down onto/into the convey system, and right into your grinder where it can go to become the ingots you need. You can connect your reactors to conveyor tubes to refuel from afar; set them up so the ingots flow right to your reactor, which are connected to your ore refining and farming! It may sound tedious and obnoxious to build, but you can certainly do fantastic things with a little (a lot) of time, elbow grease, and patience. Another good idea: turn off reactors when not in use as this will save you power. Nothing is more frustrating than suddenly having all of your systems shut down when you no longer have a power source.
Bad idea: People in this game come in two flavors: fun, friendly, helpful, and violent, annoying and destructive. As stated above, Space Pirates exist in this game in the form of other players. Given the anonymity of the Internet, there is always going to be someone who uses that as an excuse to ruin someone else’s good time. Sure, there are probably roleplaying servers where people are legitimate space pirates, having a good time with their friends. But more often than not I have watched players build ships, or simply use the starting small ship and ram into other peoples’ vessels and structures for no other reason than that they could. Please take caution when playing Space Engineers; if you do not want those kinds of people in your game, you can prevent it. I say it twice because it bears repeating.
The community for this game is not all bad, however. As it is on Steam, there are tons of ship designs you can download for your own use and perusal, whether to fly around and claim it as your own or to simply see how they build it as an example for future use. There are lots of guides and wikis in the Steam community on how to build and assemble them, as well as useful tips and tricks to add that extra layer of shine/utility. I highly advise doing lots of reading before, during, and after play. There is always something new to learn. The Space Engineer devs also have videos in the Guides portion of Steam on items that have updated in patches, and new systems to use in the game. Factions are also a good idea, as they bring utility and teamwork to a game like this. Imagine what could be built with eight players working in unison? Perhaps a true-to-scale Death Star? Staging and replicating famous science-fiction battles are even in the cards with a dedicated enough playerbase. Your imagination now has a near infinite sandbox to play with, what will you build with the opportunity?!
Scorched Earth Policy? Not here: Good (3/5)
Once a niche market, the sandbox construction game has been made incredibly popular and mainstream, thanks to titles like Minecraft. This title fulfills something that the aforementioned Minecraft does not allow for: Outer Space. I am waiting to see players build Zaku-IIs and Wing Gundam in Space Engineers, if it is not already possible. I would like to see Exo-Suits/Mobile Suits in this game and perhaps in later patches we will see just that. The ambience and blend of reality and sci-fi is fantastic to me; it makes me wish I were better with crafting and more patient with games like this. If I had the time I would probably get absorbed, never to be seen again. There is a lot to be seen and done in such a simple game, despite having no story to speak of, and only construction and destruction as gameplay features. I do feel like Space Engineers has an incredibly sharp learning curve; the game does not feel as accessible as say, Minecraft is. They have very active and frequent updates which I enjoy and certainly a bright future ahead of them considering the massive playerbase now supporting development.
While the ships look very blocky and out of place sometimes, the game is beautiful. When activating a jetpack and flying into space, you can truly get a glimpse of how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things. Off in the distance you can see the sun glowing, radiating all with its light as piles of meteors zoom by; it is a fairly accurate representation of the inky blackness that is outer space. Beautiful for the right reasons. I would like to see randomly generated planetary bodies and stars off in the distance, too. I want it to feel like I’m really in the midst of something wondrous.
The controls are a little wacky to get used to, but they are solid. You can change your view to outside of your space suit, swapping weapons/building materials with the 1-0 keys. The game shows you what buttons do what, when you need them. My only real complaint is adding blocks to a ship or station can be infuriating if you are not in the right distance/angle to them. I spent a lot more time than I should have just trying to get that down pat. Other than that, controls are incredibly solid.
The features that exist are sound, and though the title is simplistic (except when building!), there are many other things that could possibly be done. Perhaps generated space pirates run by the AI, instead of players, where players have to attempt to outfly/outfight these enemy ships, and prevent a boarding party. Now that would be fun. But the game itself is solid all around. The idea that you start with almost nothing and can practically build a space empire is phenomenal. I would like to see the ability to travel to other galaxies/systems in your ships, to use as a utility to connect player games together. As a write/roleplayer, I can see a ton of fun LARP style gameplay that appears from that sort of patch, which we normally cannot experience as gamers. Another minor complaint is the lack of spherical or rounded parts for sides of ships or stations, so I could make a more realistic Death Star.
The music, while lovely to listen to, began to drone on very quickly. For as long as one spends playing this game building masterpieces, I would like to hear more variety in the soundtrack. Sound effects are spot on, with clanking metal and jetpack boosts being especially crisp in my mind. The music itself feels epic and bold, as if we would hear it for the first time, stepping into space. But a few hours of it feels like I’m watching 2001: A Space Odyssey without the story; that’s not quite as fantastic.